Holding onto the role for 15 years, Daniel Craig’s managed a solid run as James Bond, particularly in titles like Casino Royale and Skyfall. That tenure’s come to an end with No Time To Die and, understandably, 007 fans are concerned whether this send-off to the character is more The Rise of Skywalker than Logan. The good news is No Time to Die proves to be an extremely entertaining and rollicking last hurrah for Craig. The bad news is that this isn't quite a flawless finish for this iteration of the superspy as No Time to Die did leave me yearning in some key areas, though none of its flaws are as bad as the shortcomings that dragged down Spectre, for what it's worth.
No Time to Die begins where that lackluster Spectre left off, with James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) off the grid and enjoying just being lovers in Italy. These lowkey romantic scenes initially had me wary, since Bond and Swann weren’t compelling as a couple before. Hinging so much of No Time to Die on their relationship seems like it would be a recipe for creating an immediate emotional barrier between them and the viewer. However, the screenplay smartly spends time fleshing out Swann's perspectives (she's even the sole focus of the movie's prologue) to make her and Bond's dynamic work. No Time to Die doesn't just deliver a good movie, it redeems elements from a bad movie!
Anyway, like Magneto in one of the X-Men: First Class sequels, Bond’s attempts at tranquil living come to a close when violent trouble comes knocking in the form of an ambush by Spectre agents. Their sudden arrival, seemingly the result of something from Swann’s past, drives a wedge between the two lovers, with Bond choosing to return to retirement, now solo. However, the actions of mysterious villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) drags Bond out of his bubble. This new adversary has a scheme that’ll make Bond question whose good, who's bad, and what’s important to him. Shockingly, a James Bond movie also makes time for pretty ladies, extensive car chases, and lots of gunfire.
As evidenced by the decision to incorporate two drastic time jumps before the 15-minute mark is reached, No Time to Die crams a lot into its story. After all, this is "the epic conclusion" (as the TV commercials say) to Craig's time as Bond, so everything and the kitchen sink gets thrown into the mix. Still, even over a 163-minute runtime, I kept wishing there was more room for things to breathe. A big plot turn involving M and questions regarding his morality especially proves underwhelming in how it ends up getting resolved in too hurried a manner. How can you accentuate the traditional atmosphere of uncertainty in a spy thriller if you won’t let the uncertainty simmer?
However, more often than not, No Time to Die provides ample space to admire the toys it's dragged out of the James Bond toybox. Best of all, the decision's been made to make this a more restrained character-driven mission. We get some really fun action scenes in here and there's certainly no shortage of spectacle. But the primary focus of No Time to Die gets established in a prologue establishing Safin not as a baddie who can nuke a city but through the visual language of a slasher movie villain, complete with Safin donning a mask. With the camera lingering on the intimate struggles of an adolescent character trying to endure Safin's rampage, No Time to Die makes it clear this is a film about surviving violence rather than just relentless hollow fistfights.
This quality is well-captured by director Cary Fukunaga, a newcomer to both 007 films and the world of blockbusters. Grounding things in the process of coping with the aftereffects of traumatic violence gives Fukunage a humanistic anchor to ground the enjoyably over-the-top action elements, like machine gun turrets hiding inside the headlights of an automobile. While Fukunaga's handling of certain comedic moments (like an oddly executed gag with a slinky) left me yearning, his filmmaking is otherwise sharp as a tack, particularly his confidence in blending a more contemplative Bond movie with one that goes old-school silly, compete with Bond delivering witty puns after dispatching evil henchmen.
Certain parts of classic Bond films (like its approach to women and/or characters of color) needed an upgrade, there's no denying that. But it’s nice to see that there’s no more apologizing for the harmless silly qualities of Bond. Fukunaga is here to say you can have intimate drama and Bond staples like wacky gadgets too, they’re not mutually exclusive entities. The balance doesn't work 100% of the time (there's one meta-line from Bond delivered in hastily-added voiceover that made me roll my eyes), but it largely does manage to run as smoothly as one of Bond's snazzy vehicles.
Also working nicely in this installment is the cast, headlined by Daniel Craig. Having reaffirmed his range in recent projects like Knives Out, Craig returns to the world of 007 with no fears of getting typecast in this role, allowing him to focuses on providing just the right balance of vulnerability and confident moxie as Bond. Craig continues to be a great leading man for these films while the supporting players in No Time to Die prove equally commendable. Lashana Lynch, as the new 007 for MI6, is a great foil for Craig, Lea Seydoux does strong work injecting tangible humanity into Vesper, and Ben Whishaw continues to be a delight as Q. Stealing the whole movie over two scenes is Ana de Armas, whose excitable novice secret agent may seriously be the best thing to emerge in the entire Daniel Craig era of James Bond features.
As for Rami Malek as the requisite Bond baddie this go-around, he's pretty good. The character of Safin is more distinct in terms of how he's presented and the function he serves in the story than in Malek's performance and the characters dialogue, both of which evoke too many other modern blockbuster adversaries (like Thanos or the villain in the last two Mission: Impossible titles) for my liking. But I like Safin the more I ruminate on him, especially in how he isn't as much of the principal threat as Bond's trust issues. Fukanaga and company wisely accentuate Safin's shadowy presence to allow the internal shortcomings of No Time to Die's protagonist to take center stage as the central origin of conflict. This more sparing use of Safin also allows one to appreciate the better qualities of Malek's performance, which does manage to feel like a different beast than his work in Mr. Robot or Bohemian Rhapsody.
The considerate care and ambition in No Time to Die don't result in a perfect movie. Certain major developments in the plot needed extra time to breathe and other aspects of the movie, like some clumsy pieces of editing or Hans Zimmer's occasionally intrusive score, could've used further fine-tuning. But No Time to Die still emerges as a highly enjoyable blockbuster that delivers plenty (sometimes too much) bang for your buck and more effective poignancy than I was expecting. Die-hard fans of this franchise need not fret, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies has come to a satisfying end. Now, onto the era of endless Knives Out sequels!